Kentucky judge rules in favor of printer that refused to print t‑shirts for pride event

The shirts were to display the pride logo (seen above) on the front, and the names of event sponsors on the reverse.
The shirts were to display the pride logo (seen above) on the front, and the names of event sponsors on the reverse.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A judge in Lexington on Monday ruled in favor of a shop that refused to print gay pride festival T-shirts.

The ruling by Fayette County Circuit Judge James Ishmael overturned a decision by the city’s Human Rights Commission. The commission had ruled in 2014 that the print shop, Hands On Originals, violated a city law that bans discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. The shop says it has refused several jobs because of its Christian beliefs.

Ishmael said the Human Rights Commission went beyond its statutory authority in siding with the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, a gay rights advocacy organization.

The judge’s ruling said that the shop’s refusal to print GLSO’s pride festival shirts in 2012 was based not on the sexual orientation of its members but on “the message advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.”

GLSO President Christopher Bauer said that he was disappointed in the ruling.

“We feel that this is just a reminder that there are still many out there who feel that their citizenship is worth more than that of members of the (gay, lesbian and transgender) community,” Bauer said in a statement.

Both the group and the Human Rights Commission said they are considering an appeal of the ruling.

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Ishmael said the business never inquired about the sexual orientation of the representatives from the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization. The owners of Hands On Originals have “treated homosexual and heterosexual groups the same,” Ishmael wrote, noting that the business has in the past turned down orders for shirts promoting strip clubs and containing violent messages.

“The government can’t force citizens to surrender free-speech rights or religious freedom in order to run a small business, and this decision affirms that,” said Jim Campbell, a lawyer from the Alliance Defense Fund, which argued on behalf of the shop.

The shirts were intended for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival, an annual event promoting gay rights. The group later found another printer to produce the shirts, according to the ruling.

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